COVID has accelerated many trends in business, and it is set to permanently change certain industries. Ignacio de la Vega, dean of EGADE Business School, believes b-schools must adapt and drive this change.
We're facing the worst economic recession in history. But Ignacio de la Vega, dean of EGADE Business School in Mexico, says the disruption caused by COVID-19 should be viewed as an opportunity for change.
Business schools, he says, should lead the way in developing future leaders who can combat some of the challenges presented by COVID-19.
“Problem-solving is at the heart of innovation, and crises present the conditions for innovators and entrepreneurs to tackle the many challenges that we face,” he says.
“Business schools are key to understanding these challenges and developing the leadership capabilities to respond to them effectively."
Turning students into responsible leaders
Business schools, often depicted as leadership factories, are the starting point for many business leaders, and are therefore well positioned to instil responsible values.
The trend towards responsible management has been growing for years, but COVID-19, Ignacio says, could act as the catalyst to accelerate this trend. Responsible leadership is bound to become a necessity, not a leadership choice.
“Our societies and organizations need and deserve transformational leaders who can bring the communities together, promoting inclusion and a sense of belonging, but also capable of creating meaning out of the crisis, reimagining the future, and communicating it effectively to the shareholders,” he explains.
EGADE is ahead of the curve in actively driving forward responsible, people-driven leadership. The Center for Conscious Business for a Sustainable Future drives a people-centric approach which runs through the programs at EGADE. It emphasizes the belief that strategy should put the responsibility for employees, clients, communities, supply chains, and providers at the center of any business.
In this sense, Ignacio sees his graduates as ‘omnipreneurs’: “Leaders who create shared value and transform society.”
Making an impact through technology
Technology has already significantly changed the way business is conducted over lockdown. This trend is likely to continue, as many businesses continue to adopt a flexible or remote working environment.
But more than that, technology will also become an important tool for making a social impact, and b-schools ought to recognize this.
Technology has for some time been perceived as a differentiator—disproportionately benefiting developed countries— and Ignacio firmly believes that it could now be used to widen impact across the world. From climate-led innovation, to widening access to education, healthcare, and other human rights, technology has the potential to create far reaching positive change.
“Technology can also enhance human potential and can create opportunities. To address this challenge, we must prepare leaders to be agile and take risks in new forms of endeavor that we cannot imagine today.”
“Business school graduates will obviously need to deeply understand technology, but, above all, have the skills to leverage its benefits to create a more sustainable future.”
Business schools should prepare their graduates to become technologically-literate leaders. Artificial intelligence, data analysis, and blockchain, among other technologies, will become as important as traditional business school subjects like marketing and accounting.
EGADE’s focus is on imparting skills that complement technology, which makes them irreplaceable by machines. Ignacio lists some of these qualities: “Creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, civic responsibility, ethical and human values, resilience and adaptability, emotional intelligence.”
Keeping the MBA relevant post-COVID
One thing Ignacio is confident in is that the demand for business education will remain consistent. But schools need to adapt their offerings to meet the needs of students.
As international mobility remains uncertain, digital learning, Ignacio anticipates, will become a permanent fixture in b-schools’ curricula. He expects digital learning to go even further than just remote classroom settings, shepherded in by what he dubs “the democratization of technology”.
“Remote teaching and online education are not the real digital education, or at least they do not develop the complete potential of digital education. Digitalization, hybrid education, and lifelong learning will become the new normal.”
In a rapidly shifting business landscape, are traditional skills going out of date? Ignacio believes they’re still important, but instead the focus should be on “competencies”, not skills. Competencies such as resilience, managing under uncertainty, collaboration, agility, and communication.
Given business schools’ strong position to create transformational leaders, driving change and having impact relies on keeping business education relevant.
“In this uncertain and volatile context, business schools are more relevant than ever,” Ignacio says. “They are key to understanding these challenges and developing the leadership capabilities to respond to them effectively, as they are committed to prepare the next generation of leaders with the knowledge, competencies and attitudes that are required to shape the future.”